(1909 - 1959)
Maximillion Adelbert Baer,
better known as Max Baer, was born on February
11, 1909, in Omaha Nebraska. Nicknamed “Madcap
Maxie,” and the “Livermore Larupper,” Baer
held the title of World Heavyweight Champion
from 1934-35. The Boxing Register: International
Boxing Hall of Fame Official Record Book
said that Max possessed perhaps “the
most powerful right hand in heavyweight
Baer dropped out of school
in the 8th grade to help his father on their
cattle ranch; this labor is alleged to be
the reason for Baer’s
strength. Baer turned professional in 1929,
and won 22 of his first 24 fights, 9 with
first-round knockouts. His conditioning,
combined with his tremendous power, made
him a formidable foe. In 1930, he was charged
with manslaughter when Frankie Campbell died
as a result of a Baer knockout. He was cleared
of all charges, but was banned from boxing
in California for a year. Baer was so frightened
by this incident that he chose to quit boxing
altogether for several months.
When he returned to the ring, Baer was reluctant to
attack his opponents. Hall of Famer Tommy Loughran told him he was telegraphing
his punches, and Jack Dempsey worked with Baer to shorten his punches.
In 1932, Baer knocked Ernie Schaaf unconscious in the tenth round of
their match. Schaaf died shortly after a later fight with Primo Carnera;
however, his death was partially due to the damage inflicted by the
blow he received from Baer.
In June 1933, in the best
fight of his career, Baer defeated the German,
Max Schmeling, in front of 60,000 spectators
at Yankee Stadium. During
this match, Baer wore
of David on his shorts, in a demonstration of pride
for the Jewish people at a time when Nazi persecution of German Jews was just beginning.
Baer received his title
shot the following year. After
knocking the champ Primo Carnera down 11
times, the fight was stopped in the 11th-round
and Baer became the title holder.
At the height of his fame, Baer starred in a movie
and lived the social high life. He was constantly romantically linked
to movie stars, chorus girls, and Broadway starlets. Max Baer had two
wives, actress Dorothy Dunbar (married July 8, 1931, divorced 1933)
and Marry Ellen Sullivan whom he married on June 29, 1935, and remained
with until his death.
In June 1935, in his first
title defense, Max lost the title in a 15-round
decision to James J. Braddock in a huge upset.
His next fight was a loss to Joe Louis.
During the fight, Baer returned to his corner
(Jack Dempsey was in his corner), and said
he could not breath. Dempsey said: “I
conned him into the ring...I told him I'd
kill him with the water bottle if he didn't
go back out there and get knocked out.” Baer
was knocked out by Louis in the fourth round.
He retired from boxing in 1941 with a career
record of 72 wins (52 knockouts), and 12
losses. Max Baer died in 1959. He was inducted
into the International Boxing Hall of Fame
There continues to be some
debate over whether Max Baer was Jewish.
His father was a non-practicing Jew and his
mother was a Catholic of Scot-Irish descent.
Max was raised Catholic; however, he proclaimed
himself a Jew. Baer said he
wore a Magen David on his trunks to show
his pride, but some people believed this
was done for publicity alone.
In the movie Cinderella
James J. Braddock is the hero and fights
Max Baer in the ultimate match. Critics took
issue with director Ron Howard’s portrayal
of Baer as cruel and snobbish, when he is
remembered as audacious and amiable. The
final climatic scenes between Baer and Braddock
have people hating the moneyed, snobbish
Baer; while cheering on the beloved, average-Joe
Braddock. The film portrays Baer as a womanizer
and jokester, which he was, but also as malicious,
which is not how he is remembered. Before
the match, Baer is heard commenting to Braddock’s
too pretty to be a widow”; however,
according to Baer’s
family and historians this malice was atypical
of the boxer.
Baby-boomers were not born
when Baer was fighting, but many grew up
watching his son, Max
Baer, Jr., who played Jethro Bodine on the
popular television show, The Beverly Hillbillies.
Fighter Given Short Shrift in Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man”
Photo courtesy of: "Harry
Winkler Collection, University Libraries
of Notre Dame"